Hito Steyerl

Artvehicle 53/Review

4th November 2010 — 19th December 2010

Years ago, I staggered home one night to find another tenant carefully dismantling his radio cassette recorder in the kitchen. 
I asked him what was wrong with it. Nothing, he said, he just wanted to find out how it worked. Then he’d put it back together again.
When I got up the next morning the machine was in hundreds of pieces, neatly laid out all over the table. He had gone to bed.
I went away for a few days. Upon my return I met him on the stairs. 
How was the radio cassette coming on? 
Oh that, he said. I took it up to my bedroom. I’m nearly there, though.
A few weeks later, he moved out. 
Poking about in the vacated room, I found a box under the bed containing all those components he had arranged on the table so neatly.

Here I am years later, struggling to nail down the essence of Free Fall. Trying to succinctly describe such an intricately-crafted montage of image, sound and text is proving as impossible as reassembling that radio cassette recorder was for my ex-housemate.  It twists, turns, repeats, goes off at tangents, then intersects unexpectedly; factual sequences meet fictional sequences until it’s difficult to tell which is which. Visually rhythmical, the video seems perfectly logical when you see it yet far too complicated to adequately put into words.

Partly shot in an aeroplane graveyard in the Mojave Desert, it traces the capitalistic cycle of boom and bust by following, amongst other things, the fortunes and misfortunes of Howard Hughes and his airline company, TWA.

It sketches out the biography of an aeroplane that started life in TWA’s fleet, was sold to the Israeli military, saw action in the disastrous Raid on Entebbe, and finally met its destruction at the end the movie Speed (a sequence that was also filmed in the aeroplane graveyard.)

Mike Potter, the owner of the graveyard, is a shrewd ex-TWA pilot, one of the protagonists of Free Fall. Since the economic downturn, his sprawling patch of desert has become inundated with aircraft that have become unprofitable for airlines to keep in the skies. The newer planes are mothballed in anticipation of more affluent times, whilst older ones are cannibalised for parts. Potter maximises his income by renting or selling planes at top dollar to the Hollywood film industry, not to mention breaking them down for their aluminium content, some of which gets exported to China and ends up coating pirate DVDs of Hollywood blockbusters. Speed, for example. 

There’s so much more to explain but I’m going to quit while I’m ahead. Suffice to say, it’s enthralling. Go watch the video and see.

Phil Harris

Chisenhale Gallery
64 Chisenhale Road
London E3 5QZ

Wednesday-Sunday, 1pm-6pm

Hito Steyerl — Hito Steyerl In Free Fall 2010

Hito Steyerl In Free Fall 2010